Susie Rushton: We abandon an entire generation – and now we revel in their tears

Notebook: Whether we believe these tears or not, there's no denying they make great television

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The Independent Online

Maybe I need to get a grip, but the last week has seen me welling up in sympathy in front of primetime television, something that hasn't happened since I used to watch the "sad, true-life story" segments on That's Life as an impressionable eight-year-old. It wasn't that mawkish John Lewis Christmas commercial that brought me to tears, but the sight of two desperately ambitious young people quivering on the very edge of success.

First of all there was Masterchef's "little Claire", as Gregg Wallace called her, a 22-year-old peroxide blonde wannabe chef who'd only left catering college last week and was now "cooking for actual CRITICS", she said, her eyes popping with an amazement I found quite touching.

By the end of the week Claire was out-cooking Alain Ducasse, if you were to go by Michel Roux Jnr's reaction, and yet at every crucial stage of the competition, she tried to gulp back the sobs, which usually came tumbling out anyway. Claire looks so photogenic when she cries that I'm almost hoping for a rocky next round for her in the semi-finals.

Something similar happened on Saturday night as the X Factor contestant Misha B let the tears streak down her face after belting out a Whitney Houston classic. The 19-year-old singer stood, unspeaking, on the stage for a good few minutes, just letting the saltwater speak for itself.

"What are the tears for?" asked a bemused host Dermot O'Leary, a man you wouldn't wish for your husband. Because she's talented and yet everybody hates her, you idiot! Here, her tears later brought accusations of fakery from both viewers and judges, but then we British always feel uncomfortable with open displays of emotion.

Whether we believe these tears or not, there's no denying they make great television, something that cameramen certainly know as they sweep in for a giant close-up of disconsolate youth.

Interestingly though these aren't exhibitions of self-pity but of sheer, gutsy effort: telly talent contests might be media confections yet they do reflect the real and utterly earnest ambition of youth. Given how negatively young people are popularly portrayed right now – as a "lost generation" of rioting, ill-mannered, benefit-hoarding no-hopers – it's pretty amazing that we're allowed to sit back and enjoy a moment of their youthful, authentic emotional response at all.

Present-buying to suit me, not you

This year Christmas shopping is all about getting the timing right. With retailers fighting for their profit margins, the usual rules about discounts not starting until at least mid-December no longer apply. Leave it too late and the pre-season sales will be over; go out on a sortie too early, and you might end up paying a premium.

Never before have I started my Christmas shopping in November. Previously, I considered leaving it late as a marker of laser-guided accuracy in the matter of gifting: I know what X wants, and I know exactly where to get it – so why rush?

On Sunday I found myself in Westfield, along with thousands of other harried-looking women scanning the very subtly signposted sale prices. And I'm glad I allowed myself the extra time: shopping around comparing discounts is laborious, and that's even before one gets online.

This week Amazon piles into the pre-Christmas discounting frenzy with Black Friday, a series of "lightning sales" that reduces prices on a selection of goods for just a couple of hours; inevitably, it is the hideous pink-and-bling watches that hang around, while the invitingly discounted Anglepoise lamps are sold out in seconds. Brilliant, but infuriating.

At this rate, my Christmas shopping will be coming in on budget, but what of the festive spirit, that lovely, warm feeling of finding wonderful gifts your loved ones will adore? Can't afford it this year.